Legislators in nine states spanning the U.S. will collaborate to push extended producer responsibility policies for plastic packaging. They said their joint actions will carry more weight than a single legislative effort.
The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators this week announced the effort, which involves lawmakers in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
Each lawmaker has already introduced or plans to introduce plastic packaging extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation in their states. EPR shifts the costs associated with recycling products onto the producers.
EPR bills have appeared in a handful of state legislatures in recent years, but this appears to be the first coordinated effort by lawmakers around the country to advocate for such policies.
“States know they are more powerful when acting together,” the caucus said in a release. “These legislators are moving the conversation forward around how to combat plastic pollution and move towards a circular economy and zero-waste through a united effort.”
The NCEL lawmakers also formed what they are calling an “EPR for Packaging Network.” Through this group, they will exchange policy ideas, discuss strategies and share lessons from each state’s experience.
The state-level collaboration comes during wider attention on policies to address plastic waste, particularly EPR. Last year, members of Congress introduced a bill that included an EPR component for packaging materials. Although that bill has not advanced, its authors last summer encouraged state lawmakers to take components of the bill and push for them at a local and regional level, similar to the efforts of the NCEL group.
During a virtual meeting announcing the new effort this week, California State Sen. Henry Stern, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, framed the collaboration as part of a trend that extends outside the realm of recycling policy.
“What you’re going to see, I think, beyond EPR, is a broader movement of interstate coalitions that aren’t simply waiting on Congress to act,” he said. Although he noted national action has its place, state legislators are “the tip of the spear” in addressing environmental issues, Stern said.
He also laid out how environmental problems impact multiple states at once, highlighting the value of a coordinated response.
“Maryland’s problem is also New Hampshire’s problem. Washington state is not separate from Oregon,” Stern said. “Pollution doesn’t know state boundaries.”
Hawaii State Rep. Nicole Lowen, a Democrat from the Kailua-Kona area, said EPR systems, such as the one she recently proposed, would have many benefits for municipal recycling efforts.
“We want to educate the public about the limits and expenses of locally run recycling programs. We want to relieve local governments and taxpayers from shouldering the burden of this problem financially,” Lowen said.
She also touched on the potential for EPR to impact product design, creating packaging materials that are more recyclable, for example.
“EPR legislation will create an incentive for products and product packaging to be designed in ways that are less costly to the environment,” Lowen said. “For too many years, industry has had every financial incentive to do the least amount possible because they are not being held responsible for paying for the problems created by their products.”
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